The Guardian 2024-04-04 16:03:48


Food charity demands independent inquiry into Israeli killing of aid staff

World Central Kitchen calls on countries of workers who died to join its call, as Biden and Netanyahu expected to discuss attack

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The international food charity World Central Kitchen has called for an independent investigation into the Israeli strikes that killed seven of its aid workers in Gaza on Monday, as the US president, Joe Biden, and Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, were expected to discuss the attack on the phone.

WCK asked Australia, Canada, Poland, the US and the UK, whose citizens were killed, to join it in demanding “an independent, third-party’’ inquiry into the strikes.

“This was a military attack that involved multiple strikes and targeted three WCK vehicles,” the charity said in a statement. “All three vehicles were carrying civilians; they were marked as WCK vehicles; and their movements were in full compliance with Israeli authorities, who were aware of their itinerary, route and humanitarian mission.

“An independent investigation is the only way to determine the truth of what happened, ensure transparency and accountability for those responsible, and prevent future attacks on humanitarian aid workers.”

WCK asked the Israeli government to retain all the necessary evidence, including communications, video and audio recordings of the fatal strikes on their convoy. The bodies of six foreign staff of WCK were repatriated from Gaza via Egypt on Wednesday, while the Palestinian employee was buried in Gaza.

The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said on Thursday that Israel’s explanation for the deaths was “not good enough”, while a diplomatic crisis between Poland and Israel has erupted after Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Yacov Livne, pushed back at what he said were attempts by the “extreme right and left in Poland” to accuse Israel of “intentional murder”.

The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, on Thursday called the comment “outrageous” and described the ambassador as “the biggest problem for the state of Israel in relations with Poland”. The foreign ministry said Livne was summoned to a meeting on Friday morning.

Biden and Netanyahu are expected to speak on Thursday in their first phone call since the strikes. Biden has led a chorus of international anger over the attack on the employees of the US-based WCK, who were distributing desperately needed food to a population on the verge of famine.

The Pentagon said the US secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, had urged Israel to take concrete steps to protect aid workers and Palestinian civilians in Gaza “after repeated coordination failures” when he spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, on Wednesday. “Secretary Austin expressed his outrage at the Israeli strike on a World Central Kitchen humanitarian aid convoy,” the Pentagon said. It added that Austin had urged Gallant to conduct “a swift and transparent” investigation, to share the conclusions publicly, and to hold those responsible to account.

The US has provided crucial military aid and diplomatic support for Israel’s nearly six-month offensive, which was launched in response to Hamas’s 7 October attack in southern Israel. There is no indication the US will withdraw aid over the WCK strike.

Israel said on Thursday that the military investigation into the killing of the seven aid workers could take weeks, while Shimon Friedman, a spokesperson for Cogat, the arm of the Israeli military responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, told the BBC they “hope for [the investigation to report] in the next few days”.

The IDF chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, attributed the strike to “misidentification”, adding that it “was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers”, and was a mistake that should not have happened. The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said on Thursday that the Israeli explanations were “not good enough”.

The IDF said it had halted leave for all combat units on Thursday and heightened its air defence command to deal with a possible missile or drone attack from Iran. There is concern in Israel about Tehran’s response to the deaths of two Iranian generals and five military advisers in an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus earlier this week. Reuters and Tel Aviv residents reported on Thursday that GPS services had been disrupted, an apparent measure to ward off guided missiles. Iran has vowed revenge for the killings.

Since the war began, Netanyahu has faced intense domestic pressure from the families and supporters of the hostages still being held in Gaza, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

On Wednesday Benny Gantz, a Netanyahu rival and member of the war cabinet, called for snap parliamentary elections in September. “We must set a consensual date for the month of September, or if you prefer for the first anniversary of the war,” Gantz said.

The prime minister’s Likud party rejected the call, but it was welcomed by the leader of the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, who last month urged new elections in a strident criticism of Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict. “When a leading member of Israel’s war cabinet calls for early elections and over 70% of the Israeli population agrees according to a major poll, you know it’s the right thing to do,” Schumer wrote on X.

Early elections require the agreement of 61 elected officials, or the majority of deputies in the Knesset, where the Likud has the most seats but does not have a majority.

Likud said a national election while Israel was at war “would inevitably lead to paralysis” and harm the military’s fight in Gaza.

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Government ignored warnings more than 100 companies may be misusing Centrepay scheme, Asic says

Services Australia’s failure to act ‘inexcusable’ and urgent action needed to help people struggling to get by, senators say

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The corporate regulator repeatedly warned Services Australia that it should review and consider removing more than 100 companies from a government-run debit scheme that allows early access to welfare payments.

But it said its attempts to sound the alarm about potential misuse of the scheme have had no impact.

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Guardian Australia last week revealed widespread problems with the Centrepay system, including its continued use by rent-to-buy appliance companies that had previously been sanctioned by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic) for predatory conduct.

Last year Asic revealed in parliament it had repeatedly and privately expressed concern to Services Australia about 122 rent-to-buy appliance companies, many of which operate in Indigenous communities.

Asic asked the department to closely review the businesses and consider removing them from the Centrepay register. Deputy Asic chair Karen Chester told parliament’s financial services committee in November: “We have meetings with them regularly and we have brought these concerns to their attention. It just doesn’t seem to be having any impact in terms of the entities being removed from the register.”

Asic also raised concerns about 21 stores, mostly in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, that had access to Centrepay and were selling low-value household goods at a high cost.

Services Australia declined to answer Guardian Australia’s questions about steps it had taken to review the 122 rent-to-buy companies. A spokesperson said this was because it was currently reviewing the entire Centrepay system.

“We are committed to seeing this process through and won’t be providing further comment on individual businesses regarding Centrepay policy or compliance while it’s under way,” spokesperson Hank Jongen said.

But Labor Senator Louise Pratt says the department should take “timely action” on the businesses that Asic has concerns about.

“I’ve raised concerns that businesses that Asic has concerns about have not been removed from Centrepay. This still appears to be the case,” Pratt said.

“Centrepay and Asic have assured me that they are working closely together. I hope this means that they will be pursuing timely action on businesses that Asic has previously had concerns about.”

Among the businesses that remain approved for Centrepay is Local Appliance Rentals, a franchise network of rent-to-buy operators working in areas with high Indigenous populations, which was fined in 2018 for irresponsible lending over an alleged failure to verify consumers’ financial situations, the inadvertent receipt of excess payments, the charging of excessive late fees and a failure to properly supervise franchisees.

The Guardian also revealed that Centrepay has allowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to wrongly flow from vulnerable Australians to energy giant AGL. That money has since been paid pack, according to AGL. Services Australia is also seeking to return overpayments made via Centrepay to Ergon. It has refused to say whether other utilities companies have received overpayments via Centrepay.

Greens social services spokesperson Penny Allman-Payne said the mismanagement of Centrepay was allowing exploitation. She called for an independent investigation of the system’s failings.

“There must be an urgent investigation into how Centrepay failed so spectacularly and a broader review into the appalling state of Services Australia and Centrelink,” Allman-Payne said.

“And the government must come clean on just how widespread this problem of wrongful deductions really is and who else has profited from it.”

Independent senator Lidia Thorpe, a vocal critic of the failings of Centrepay, supported the call for an independent review of the system. She said it was causing real harm to Indigenous communities.

“The ongoing failures of Services Australia’s Centrepay system are inexcusable,” she said. “This system has allowed big businesses to rip off people who are struggling to get by, many of them First Peoples.”

Labor in opposition attempted to stop rent-to-buy companies using Centrepay through a private member’s bill.

“Now that they’re in government it seems they’d prefer to protect these big businesses rather than help the battlers who are being ripped off. It’s blatant hypocrisy,” Thorpe said.

Labor Senator Lousie Pratt also says she has raised concerns about Centrepay.

Consumer advocates have been raising concerns about Centrepay for almost a decade and last year a coalition of groups wrote to the Albanese government, outlining 17 examples of Centrepay failings.

The letter alleged that, in one case, a 26-year-old Aboriginal woman in Tennant Creek had been forced to reach out to a financial counsellor for a food hamper for her two children and was later discovered to be paying hundreds of dollars in Centrepay deductions to local retailers, including a rent-to-buy scheme for home appliances and a local bus transport service, leaving her with a bank balance of zero on the day she sought relief.

In another, a Yolngu woman with a long history of homelessness asked for emergency relief in January 2023, a point at which her Centrepay deductions were more than $400 a fortnight to local retail stores for items no longer in her possession.

The rent-to-buy sector’s peak body, the Consumer Household Equipment Rental Providers Association Inc, says its members are subject to regular audits and strict regulation and had an industry code of conduct stipulating that anyone in financial distress could return goods and free themselves of debt, stopping them from entering into a debt spiral.

It rejected the suggestion that rent-to-buy operators that had previously been subject to Asic enforcement should be removed from Centrepay.

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Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial: Channel Seven offered Taylor Auerbach promotion after rebuking him for charging Thai massages to corporate card, court told

On his first day of evidence former Spotlight producer claims Lehrmann had cocaine and Googled sex workers on night out

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Taylor Auerbach was offered a pay rise and a promotion from Channel Seven after the TV producer admitted to putting $10,000 on a corporate credit card to pay for Thai massages for Bruce Lehrmann, the federal court has heard.

The former Spotlight producer said he was mortified when he woke up the next day and realised he had charged the company for the services at his Elizabeth Bay apartment and he sent his resignation by email in November 2022.

The sensational evidence came on the first day of the re-opening of the defamation trial after Network Ten won the right to present fresh evidence.

The fresh evidence, in the form of affidavits from Auerbach alleging Lehrmann gave Seven confidential documents from his criminal trial, has delayed the judgment Justice Michael Lee was scheduled to hand down on Thursday.

If proven, the evidence could go both to Lehrmann’s credibility and raise questions as to whether he abused the court process, which may affect the quantum of any damages he is awarded should his claim be successful.

Lee, possibly as early as next week, will rule on whether Lehrmann, a former Liberal staffer, was defamed by Lisa Wilkinson and Ten when The Project broadcast an interview with Brittany Higgins in 2021 in which she alleged she had been raped in Parliament House.

On Thursday afternoon the court heard Auerbach did not end up resigning but stayed with the program where he was offered more money and a promotion.

He agreed that in the resignation letter he apologised for spending the money on the corporate credit card which had “nothing to do with work” but he now insists that the evening was to do with work.

Auerbach told the court that on a different occasion Lehrmann issued invoices to Seven to reimburse him for money he spent on illegal drugs and sex workers.

Under cross-examination Auerbach said that Lehrmann had a bag of cocaine and sex workers at the Meriton hotel in the city but the two men devised a plan to issue an invoice for “per diems” or “reasonable expenses while on work trips” which Auerbach claimed Seven agreed to pay.

“I recall seeing the invoice,” Auerbach said.

Lehrmann’s barrister, Matthew Richardson SC, suggested that there were “no per diems paid” and “it didn’t happen”.

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“It did,” Auerbach said.

Auerbach said his former boss, executive producer Mark Llewellyn, “gave verbal approval” for the invoices to be paid.

“Mr Lehrmann had, over dinner, purchased a bag of cocaine while we were dining at Franca, and when we got upstairs to the room, he pulled that out and started to put it on a plate and then started talking to me about a prospective Spotlight story and his desire to order prostitutes to the Meriton that night and began Googling of series of websites to try and make that happen,” Auerbach said.

The incidents are alleged to have happened when Auerbach was assigned as a “babysitter” or “minder” for Lehrmann who the network was trying to get across the line for an exclusive interview.

On one of the nights of heavy drinking Auerbach told the court that Lehrmann agreed to do an interview but insisted he would not discuss the night of the alleged rape.

“I was taken aback,” Auerbach said. “It jumped out at me as quite concerning.”

Auerbach denied a suggestion by Richardson that he had a drinking problem at the time he was courting Lehrmann for the interview.

Richardson put it to him that he had been consuming “140 standard drinks a week or 30 standard drinks a day at the time”.

“I want to suggest to you Mr Auerbach that your recollection of anything that happened in November or December 2022 is suspect.”

Auerbach: “I disagree.”

Auerbach did agree he had been “in part” backgrounding journalists about his time at Seven and that he “hated” his former colleague Steve Jackson. Jackson’s appointment as a media adviser to the NSW Police was cancelled after the stories appeared last month.

Richardson: “I want to suggest you are willing to say anything, no matter how false, to damage people that are employed by Channel Seven or connected with Channel Seven?”

Auerbach denied this.

“For instance, you particularly hate Steve Jackson, your colleague from Seven who worked on the Lehrmann story, don’t you?”

Auerbach: “Yes.”

He confirmed he was upset that his name was not on Spotlight’s Walkley award entry for the Lehrmann story and that he had complained to Seven and to the Walkleys about being left out.

However, Auerbach insisted he was not proud of the Lehrmann story.

He was also cross-examined about sending naked photographs of a woman to journalists in recent weeks.

He admitted to sending the photos, disagreed that the woman was “vulnerable”, and said he did not know it was a criminal act to send photographs of that nature without her consent.

Lehrmann’s legal team played the court a video Auerbach had posted on social media in which he destroyed Jackson’s golf clubs.

Lee interjected: “The shorter the iron, the more difficult it is.”

Auerbach said the video was a parody.

Auerbach’s solicitor Rebekah Giles told the court her client had left Seven after sustaining a psychiatric injury at the hands of Llewellyn and Jackson.

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Claims of sex, drugs and credit cards: five key takeaways from Taylor Auerbach’s evidence at the Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial

High-profile defamation case reopened on Thursday with former Spotlight producer for Channel Seven giving evidence

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The Bruce Lehrmann defamation case reopened on Thursday, with television producer Taylor Auerbach giving evidence.

Here are the key takeaways from his blockbuster afternoon in the witness box .

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New book details Steve Bannon’s ‘Maga movement’ plan to rule for 100 years

Isaac Arnsdorf’s Finish What We Started shows how the strategist wanted to create a dominant coalition to take US political power

  • US politics – latest updates

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign chair and White House strategist, believed before the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on Congress that a “Maga movement” of Trump supporters “could rule for a hundred years”.

“Outside the uniparty,” the Washington Post reporter Isaac Arnsdorf writes in a new book, referring to Bannon’s term for the political establishment, “as Bannon saw it, there was the progressive wing of the Democratic party, which he considered a relatively small slice of the electorate. And the rest, the vast majority of the country, was Maga.

“Bannon believed the Maga movement, if it could break out of being suppressed and marginalised by the establishment, represented a dominant coalition that could rule for a hundred years.”

Arnsdorf’s book, Finish What We Started: The Maga Movement’s Ground War to End Democracy, will be published next week. The Post published an excerpt on Thursday.

A businessman who became a driver of far-right thought through his stewardship of Breitbart News, Bannon was Trump’s campaign chair in 2016 and his chief White House strategist in 2017, a post he lost after neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville that summer.

He remained close to Trump, however, particularly as Trump attempted to overturn his 2020 defeat by Joe Biden.

That attempt culminated in the attack on Congress of 6 January 2021, when supporters Trump told to “fight like hell” to block certification of Biden’s win attacked the US Capitol.

Nine deaths have been linked to the attack, including law enforcement suicides. More than 1,200 arrests have been made and hundreds of convictions secured. Trump was impeached for inciting the insurrection but acquitted by Senate Republicans.

Notwithstanding 88 criminal charges for election subversion, retention of classified information and hush-money payments, and multimillion-dollar penalties in civil cases over fraud and defamation, the latter arising from a rape claim a judge called “substantially true”, Trump won the Republican nomination with ease this year.

As a Trump-Biden rematch grinds into gear, Bannon remains an influential voice on the far right, particularly through his War Room podcast and despite his own legal problems over contempt of Congress and alleged fraud, both of which he denies.

The “uniparty”, in Bannon’s view, as described by Arnsdorf, is “the establishment [Bannon] hungered to destroy. The neocons, neoliberals, big donors, globalists, Wall Street, corporatists, elites.”

“Maga” stands for “Make America great again”, Trump’s political slogan.

Arnsdorf writes: “In his confidence that there were secretly millions of Democrats who were yearning to be Maga followers and just didn’t know it yet, Bannon was again taking inspiration from Hoffer, who observed that true believers were prone to conversion from one cause to another since they were driven more by their need to identify with a mass movement than by any particular ideology.”

Eric Hoffer, Arnsdorf writes, was “the ‘longshoreman philosopher’, so called because he had worked as a stevedore on the San Francisco docks while writing his first book, The True Believer [which] caused a sensation when it was published in 1951, becoming a manual for comprehending the age of Hitler, Stalin and Mao”.

Bannon, Arnsdorf writes, “was not, like a typical political strategist, trying to tinker around the edges of the existing party coalitions in the hope of eking out 50% plus one. Bannon already told you: he wanted to bring everything crashing down.

“He wanted to completely dismantle and redefine the parties. He wanted a showdown between a globalist, elite party, called the Democrats, and a populist, Maga party, called the Republicans. In that match-up, he was sure, the Republicans would win every time.”

Now, seven months out from election day and with Trump and Biden neck-and-neck in the polls, Bannon’s proposition stands to be tested again.

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New book details Steve Bannon’s ‘Maga movement’ plan to rule for 100 years

Isaac Arnsdorf’s Finish What We Started shows how the strategist wanted to create a dominant coalition to take US political power

  • US politics – latest updates

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign chair and White House strategist, believed before the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on Congress that a “Maga movement” of Trump supporters “could rule for a hundred years”.

“Outside the uniparty,” the Washington Post reporter Isaac Arnsdorf writes in a new book, referring to Bannon’s term for the political establishment, “as Bannon saw it, there was the progressive wing of the Democratic party, which he considered a relatively small slice of the electorate. And the rest, the vast majority of the country, was Maga.

“Bannon believed the Maga movement, if it could break out of being suppressed and marginalised by the establishment, represented a dominant coalition that could rule for a hundred years.”

Arnsdorf’s book, Finish What We Started: The Maga Movement’s Ground War to End Democracy, will be published next week. The Post published an excerpt on Thursday.

A businessman who became a driver of far-right thought through his stewardship of Breitbart News, Bannon was Trump’s campaign chair in 2016 and his chief White House strategist in 2017, a post he lost after neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville that summer.

He remained close to Trump, however, particularly as Trump attempted to overturn his 2020 defeat by Joe Biden.

That attempt culminated in the attack on Congress of 6 January 2021, when supporters Trump told to “fight like hell” to block certification of Biden’s win attacked the US Capitol.

Nine deaths have been linked to the attack, including law enforcement suicides. More than 1,200 arrests have been made and hundreds of convictions secured. Trump was impeached for inciting the insurrection but acquitted by Senate Republicans.

Notwithstanding 88 criminal charges for election subversion, retention of classified information and hush-money payments, and multimillion-dollar penalties in civil cases over fraud and defamation, the latter arising from a rape claim a judge called “substantially true”, Trump won the Republican nomination with ease this year.

As a Trump-Biden rematch grinds into gear, Bannon remains an influential voice on the far right, particularly through his War Room podcast and despite his own legal problems over contempt of Congress and alleged fraud, both of which he denies.

The “uniparty”, in Bannon’s view, as described by Arnsdorf, is “the establishment [Bannon] hungered to destroy. The neocons, neoliberals, big donors, globalists, Wall Street, corporatists, elites.”

“Maga” stands for “Make America great again”, Trump’s political slogan.

Arnsdorf writes: “In his confidence that there were secretly millions of Democrats who were yearning to be Maga followers and just didn’t know it yet, Bannon was again taking inspiration from Hoffer, who observed that true believers were prone to conversion from one cause to another since they were driven more by their need to identify with a mass movement than by any particular ideology.”

Eric Hoffer, Arnsdorf writes, was “the ‘longshoreman philosopher’, so called because he had worked as a stevedore on the San Francisco docks while writing his first book, The True Believer [which] caused a sensation when it was published in 1951, becoming a manual for comprehending the age of Hitler, Stalin and Mao”.

Bannon, Arnsdorf writes, “was not, like a typical political strategist, trying to tinker around the edges of the existing party coalitions in the hope of eking out 50% plus one. Bannon already told you: he wanted to bring everything crashing down.

“He wanted to completely dismantle and redefine the parties. He wanted a showdown between a globalist, elite party, called the Democrats, and a populist, Maga party, called the Republicans. In that match-up, he was sure, the Republicans would win every time.”

Now, seven months out from election day and with Trump and Biden neck-and-neck in the polls, Bannon’s proposition stands to be tested again.

  • Biden v Trump: What’s in store for the US and the world?
    On Thursday 2 May, 3pm EDT join Tania Branigan, David Smith, Mehdi Hasan and Tara Setmayer for the inside track on the people, the ideas and the events that might shape the US election campaign. Book tickets here or at theguardian.live

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US shipyards up to three years behind schedule on submarines as concerns grow for Aukus pact

Greens senator David Shoebridge says review of shipbuilding program ‘adds to the growing list of reasons why Aukus is likely to fall over’

US shipyards are running up to three years late in building new Virginia-class submarines, despite suggestions from a senior US diplomat that the Aukus pact with Australia will help deter Beijing from seizing Taiwan.

Australia is relying on a US promise to sell it at least three Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines in the 2030s, prior to Australian-made boats starting to enter into service in the 2040s.

But a report ordered by the US navy secretary, Carlos Del Toro, found the Virginia Block IV program was running about three years late, while the Virginia Block V program was about two years late.

The findings, published this week, will only add to existing concerns about the viability of the plan for Australia to buy at least three Virginia-class submarines to fill a “capability gap” in the 2030s.

It follows revelations last month that the US navy planned to build only one Virginia-class submarine next year.

The pace of construction in the US has an impact on Aukus because the transfer of submarines can only occur after the sitting president certifies to Congress that there will be no degradation of the US’s own undersea capabilities.

Under existing Aukus plans, Australia would buy two secondhand Virginia-class submarines and one new one in the 2030s.

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The Congressional Research Service says the boats expected to be sold to Australia in 2032 and 2035 “would be existing boats with 18 to 27 years each of remaining expected service life”.

A third boat, expected to be sold in 2038, “would be a new boat taken directly from the US production line, and thus have a full 33-year expected service life”.

The US navy expects to build additional Virginia-class submarines as replacements for the three sold to Australia.

Officials predict that in order to meet both American and Australian needs, the US has to be building two Virginia-class submarines each year by 2028 and then 2.33 each year after.

The Greens’ defence spokesperson, David Shoebridge, said the latest review of the shipbuilding program “adds to the growing list of reasons why Aukus is likely to fall over”.

“Increasingly the question is when will the Albanese government wave the white flag on Aukus submarines and how many billions more will be lost in the meantime?” he said.

The Australian government has long played down concerns about risks to this part of the Aukus pact, which is also intended to include collaboration on other advanced defence capabilities with the US and the UK.

Ministers have said the strain on US shipyards has been known for some time, and that is why Australia will contribute $US3bn ($A4.5bn) to boost the US industrial base under the plan.

“[Aukus] is entirely factored into how America is now thinking about their own construction of Virginia-class submarines,” the defence minister, Richard Marles, told the ABC’s Insiders program late last month.

“And we knew that the production rate needed to be increased in the US, which is why we’re making the contributions that we’re making.”

Marles said in a speech on Thursday evening that Aukus was progressing “at pace”.

“While many said it would never happen, the US has delivered the legislation to enable the transfer to Australia of both nuclear-powered submarines and importantly know-how,” he told the Sydney Institute.

Asked whether the deal would survive a potential return to the White House of Donald Trump, Marles confirmed the government was thinking about “whatever contingencies might arise post-November”.

But he said the Aukus legislation had won support from across the US political spectrum, including from Republicans who supported Trump.

“What gives us a sense of real confidence that Aukus will survive the journey, I think, is fundamentally that it’s in the strategic interests of the three countries.”

The comments came after the US deputy secretary of state, Kurt Campbell, made a rare linkage between Aukus and the fate of self-governed Taiwan, which Beijing has not ruled out taking by force.

Campbell told the Center for a New American Security thinktank that the submarine capabilities would “have enormous implications in a variety of scenarios, including in cross-strait circumstances”.

“I would argue that working closely with other nations, not just diplomatically but in defence avenues, has the consequence of strengthening peace and stability more generally,” he added.

China has repeatedly labelled the Aukus pact as a dangerous initiative that would only fuel regional tensions.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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Australian neo-Nazis must be monitored better, Senate inquiry told

White supremacists are training members in combat under cover of ‘active clubs’ promoting self-defence, counter-extremist experts say

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Australian white supremacists and neo-Nazis who are creating crowdfunding campaigns and “active clubs” to train members in combat must be monitored more closely, a prominent global counter-extremist organisation has told a Senate inquiry.

Some Australian extremists “have become leading voices in the decentralised online neo-Nazi sphere”, according to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), a global anti-terror group and non-profit. It has warned a parliamentary inquiry into rightwing extremism that some such groups in Australia may seek to promote combat sports and self-defence clubs as an “evasion tactic” to avoid police attention, as has been seen overseas.

“Active clubs claim to simply promote political street activism, a ‘nationalist’ lifestyle, and combat sports training for white nationalists for self-defence purposes. However, it appears that active clubs in the US are not about peaceful activism and sports,” CEP said in its submission to the inquiry.

“There is increasing evidence suggesting that the network’s main objective is instead the creation of shadow militias that can be activated when the need for coordinated violent action on a larger scale arises.”

The Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs references committee began an inquiry into rightwing extremist movements in Australia late last year. Due to report by December, the committee was tasked with investigating the threat posed by extremist movements, the motivations and capacity for violence of such individuals, links with international movements, and online promotion of extremism.

Among a small number of submissions published so far on the committee’s website, CEP’s researchers Joshua Fisher-Birch and Alexander Ritzmann, based in New York and Berlin respectively, said it was “possible, if not likely” that active clubs would be promoted “by (violent) rightwing extremist key actors in Australia, in the near future”.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s chief executive, Michelle Pearse, made a submission critical of the inquiry itself. She claimed its terms of reference “can be construed as inviting the creation of legal weaponry to benefit radical far-left elements antagonistic towards those who hold more conservative political opinions, with a view to silencing their opposition”.

Pearse was unhappy that some of the committee’s terms “concern activities involving no violence” and include references “where the term ‘right wing’ is open to broad, subjective interpretation”.

“In other words, the inquiry appears to be concerned more with matters that have no current association with terrorism or violent extremism, namely harmless political, right-of-centre belief,” she claimed, raising concerns the inquiry could “invoke justification for repressive measures against political opponents”.

Pearse was unhappy that “the importance of upholding fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, form no part of this inquiry”.

CEP raised concerns that active clubs, which can involve activities like combat sports training or placement of extremist stickers or graffiti, have also sought “to train operational and logistical capacities like scouting target locations and avoiding law enforcement”.

“Creating local and national leadership figures in this process is another main objective,” they said.

Some far-right groups in Australia have already promoted social activities like boxing clubs and gyms. Notorious white nationalist group The Lads Society, formed by members of the far-right United Patriots Front group, developed clubhouses in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane for similar purposes prior to 2019; leader Thomas Sewell said the purpose was to “create a network of young men” to advocate for their ideology.

Sewell and a fellow far-right group member were last year convicted of violent affray after admitting to attacking a group of hikers in a Victorian park while on a camping trip with other National Socialist Network and European Australian Movement members.

CEP recommended Australian authorities closely monitor changes to organisation of extremist groups, “due to the proximity of Australian key extremist individuals to the transnational active club network”, suggesting closer cooperation with American and Canadian law enforcement.

“Australian authorities should closely monitor the potential emergence of active club groups in the country and their transnational connections, as these could potentially lead to an increase in violent acts in the country.”

CEP raised concerns about Australian-based extremists using crowdfunding websites to raise money, and gaining local and international followings on social media platforms like Telegram and Twitter; they noted the latter platform had recently “loosened its content moderation efforts, allowing extremist groups and individuals to maintain accounts.”

The group called on the online safety regulator, the eSafety commissioner, to take further action on extremists violating the terms of service of those platforms, including strengthening local laws to enhance content monitoring standards.

Pointing to examples from Canada, CEP also suggested Australian financial regulators like Austrac monitor crowdfunding efforts to ensure tax laws are being adhered to.

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Australia’s east coast forecast to avoid gas shortfall despite claims of looming supply crisis

ACCC report says region is expected to have surplus of six petajoules in third quarter ‘even if all uncontracted gas is exported’

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Australia’s east coast is expected to have a small surplus of gas in the third quarter of 2024, with an improvement in forecast supply since the gas market code was introduced.

Those are the results of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s interim update on gas supply, to be released on Friday, which the Albanese government has said shows new enforceable supply commitments are making a difference.

The ACCC report found the east coast is forecast to have a surplus of six petajoules in the third quarter “even if all uncontracted gas is exported”, up from an estimated shortfall of five petajoules in the December 2023 report.

“The improvement in the outlook is due to both an increase in forecast supply (of seven petajoules) and decrease in forecast demand (of four petajoules),” it said.

The Albanese government’s gas market code, which the ACCC said is intended to secure “adequate gas supply at reasonable prices”, came into full effect in September 2023.

The ACCC said it appeared there would be “sufficient gas to meet demand in the east coast market” but this was “subject to some material uncertainties”.

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These include: “the variability of weather affecting gas powered generation”, such as the recent coal power stations and transmission line outages in Victoria; uncertainties in supply; and additional or fewer LNG exports.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said this report shows that our efforts to deliver more gas at more reasonable prices are making a meaningful difference”.

The energy minister, Chris Bowen, said the gas code of conduct had “already secured legally enforceable additional supply commitments from Esso, Woodside, APLNG and Senex that will deliver 564 [petajoules] into the domestic market to 2033”.

In the longer term, the Australian Energy Market Operator has warned that “small seasonal supply gaps” may emerge from 2026, with the shortages becoming annual ones from 2028 unless additional gas supplies are developed.

The opposition has seized on that finding, with the shadow energy minister, Ted O’Brien, noting in parliament on 26 March that “the east coast gas market is facing material shortfalls from next year”.

Bowen responded that Aemo’s gas statement of opportunities had regularly projected shortfalls from 2013, including under the Coalition government.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has claimed the Coalition will work with the sector “to put more supply into the domestic system”.

Dutton has opposed the mandatory code of conduct, the safeguard mechanism, which requires new gas projects for export to have net zero emissions, and the temporary coal and gas price cap.

Chalmers said the Coalition had claimed “the sky would fall in as result of our price caps and gas code of conduct” but the new data showed they had “no idea what they’re talking about”.

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Australia’s east coast forecast to avoid gas shortfall despite claims of looming supply crisis

ACCC report says region is expected to have surplus of six petajoules in third quarter ‘even if all uncontracted gas is exported’

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Australia’s east coast is expected to have a small surplus of gas in the third quarter of 2024, with an improvement in forecast supply since the gas market code was introduced.

Those are the results of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s interim update on gas supply, to be released on Friday, which the Albanese government has said shows new enforceable supply commitments are making a difference.

The ACCC report found the east coast is forecast to have a surplus of six petajoules in the third quarter “even if all uncontracted gas is exported”, up from an estimated shortfall of five petajoules in the December 2023 report.

“The improvement in the outlook is due to both an increase in forecast supply (of seven petajoules) and decrease in forecast demand (of four petajoules),” it said.

The Albanese government’s gas market code, which the ACCC said is intended to secure “adequate gas supply at reasonable prices”, came into full effect in September 2023.

The ACCC said it appeared there would be “sufficient gas to meet demand in the east coast market” but this was “subject to some material uncertainties”.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

These include: “the variability of weather affecting gas powered generation”, such as the recent coal power stations and transmission line outages in Victoria; uncertainties in supply; and additional or fewer LNG exports.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said this report shows that our efforts to deliver more gas at more reasonable prices are making a meaningful difference”.

The energy minister, Chris Bowen, said the gas code of conduct had “already secured legally enforceable additional supply commitments from Esso, Woodside, APLNG and Senex that will deliver 564 [petajoules] into the domestic market to 2033”.

In the longer term, the Australian Energy Market Operator has warned that “small seasonal supply gaps” may emerge from 2026, with the shortages becoming annual ones from 2028 unless additional gas supplies are developed.

The opposition has seized on that finding, with the shadow energy minister, Ted O’Brien, noting in parliament on 26 March that “the east coast gas market is facing material shortfalls from next year”.

Bowen responded that Aemo’s gas statement of opportunities had regularly projected shortfalls from 2013, including under the Coalition government.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has claimed the Coalition will work with the sector “to put more supply into the domestic system”.

Dutton has opposed the mandatory code of conduct, the safeguard mechanism, which requires new gas projects for export to have net zero emissions, and the temporary coal and gas price cap.

Chalmers said the Coalition had claimed “the sky would fall in as result of our price caps and gas code of conduct” but the new data showed they had “no idea what they’re talking about”.

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Indian government ordered killings in Pakistan, intelligence officials claim

Allegations of up to 20 assassinations since 2020 follow Canada’s accusation of Delhi role in murders of dissidents

The Indian government assassinated individuals in Pakistan as part of a wider strategy to eliminate terrorists living on foreign soil, according to Indian and Pakistani intelligence operatives who spoke to the Guardian.

Interviews with intelligence officials in both countries, as well as documents shared by Pakistani investigators, shed new light on how India’s foreign intelligence agency allegedly began to carry out assassinations abroad as part of an emboldened approach to national security after 2019. The agency, the Research & Analysis Wing (Raw), is directly controlled by the office of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who is running for a third term in office in elections later this month.

The accounts appear to give further weight to allegations that Delhi has implemented a policy of targeting those it considers hostile to India. While the new allegations refer to individuals charged with serious and violent terror offences, India has also been accused publicly by Washington and Ottawa of involvement in the murders of dissident figures including a Sikh activist in Canada and of a botched assassination attempt on another Sikh in the US last year.

The fresh claims relate to almost 20 killings since 2020, carried out by unknown gunmen in Pakistan. While India has previously been unofficially linked to the deaths, this is the first time Indian intelligence personnel have discussed the alleged operations in Pakistan, and detailed documentation has been seen alleging Raw’s direct involvement in the assassinations.

The allegations also suggest that Sikh separatists in the Khalistan movement were targeted as part of these Indian foreign operations, both in Pakistan and the west.

According to Pakistani investigators, these deaths were orchestrated by Indian intelligence sleeper-cells mostly operating out of the United Arab Emirates. The rise in killings in 2023 was credited to the increased activity of these cells, which are accused of paying millions of rupees to local criminals or poor Pakistanis to carry out the assassinations. Indian agents also allegedly recruited jihadists to carry out the shootings, making them believe they were killing “infidels”.

According to two Indian intelligence officers, the spy agency’s shift to focusing on dissidents abroad was triggered by the Pulwama attack in 2019, when a suicide bomber targeted a military convoy in Indian-administered Kashmir, killing 40 paramilitary personnel. The Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility.

Modi was running for a second term at the time and was brought back to power in the aftermath of the attack.

“After Pulwama, the approach changed to target the elements outside the country before they are able to launch an attack or create any disturbance,” one Indian intelligence operative said. “We could not stop the attacks because ultimately their safe havens were in Pakistan, so we had to get to the source.”

To conduct such operations “needed approval from the highest level of government”, he added.

The officer said India had drawn inspiration from intelligence agencies such as Israel’s the Mossad and Russia’s KGB, which have been linked to extrajudicial killings on foreign soil. He also said the killing of the Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in 2018 in the Saudi embassy, had been directly cited by Raw officials.

“It was a few months after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi that there was a debate among the top brass of intelligence in the prime minister’s office about how something can be learned from the case. One senior officer said in a meeting that if Saudis can do this, why not us?” he recounted.

“What the Saudis did was very effective. You not only get rid of your enemy but send a chilling message, a warning to the people working against you. Every intelligence agency has been doing this. Our country cannot be strong without exerting power over our enemies.”

Senior officials from two separate Pakistani intelligence agencies said they suspected India’s involvement in up to 20 killings since 2020. They pointed to evidence relating to previously undisclosed inquiries into seven of the cases – including witness testimonies, arrest records, financial statements, WhatsApp messages and passports – which investigators say showcase in detail the operations conducted by Indian spies to assassinate targets on Pakistani soil. The Guardian has seen the documents but they could not be independently verified.

The intelligence sources claimed that targeted assassinations increased significantly in 2023, accusing India of involvement in the suspected deaths of about 15 people, most of whom were shot at close range by unknown gunmen.

In a response to the Guardian, India’s ministry of external affairs denied all the allegations, reiterating an earlier statement that they were “false and malicious anti-India propaganda”. The ministry emphasised a previous denial made by India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, that targeted killings in other countries were “not the government of India’s policy”.

In the killing of Zahid Akhund, an alias for the convicted Kashmiri terrorist Zahoor Mistry who was involved in the deadly hijacking of an Air India flight, the Pakistani documents say a Raw handler allegedly paid for information on Akhund’s movements and location over a period of months. She then allegedly contacted him directly, pretending to be a journalist who wanted to interview a terrorist, in order to confirm his identity.

“Are you Zahid? I am a journalist from the New York Post,” read messages in the dossier shown to the Guardian. Zahid is said to have responded: “For what u r messaging me?”

Millions of rupees were then allegedly paid to Afghan nationals to carry out the shooting in Karachi in March 2022. They fled over the border but their handlers were later arrested by Pakistani security agencies.

According to the evidence gathered by Pakistan, the killings were regularly coordinated out of the UAE, where Raw established sleeper cells that would separately arrange different parts of the operation and recruit the killers.

Investigators alleged that millions of rupees would often be paid to criminals or impoverished locals to carry out the murders, with documents claiming that payments were mostly done via Dubai. Meetings of Raw handlers overseeing the killings are also said to have taken also place in Nepal, the Maldives and Mauritius.

“This policy of Indian agents organising killings in Pakistan hasn’t been developed overnight,” said a Pakistani official. “We believe they have worked for around two years to establish these sleeper cells in the UAE who are mostly organising the executions. After that, we began witnessing many killings.”

In the case of Shahid Latif, the commander of Jaish-e-Mohammed and one of India’s most notorious militants, several attempts were allegedly made to kill him. In the end, the documents claim, it was an illiterate 20-year-old Pakistani who carried out the assassination in Pakistan in October, allegedly recruited by Raw in the UAE, where he was working for a minimal salary in an Amazon packing warehouse.

Pakistani investigators found that the man had allegedly been paid 1.5m Pakistani rupees (£4,000) by an undercover Indian agent to track down Latif and later was promised 15m Pakistani rupees and his own catering company in the UAE if he carried out the killing. The young man shot Latif dead in a mosque in Sialkot but was arrested soon after, along with accomplices.

The killings of Bashir Ahmad Peer, commander of the militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, and Saleem Rehmani, who was on India’s most-wanted list, were also allegedly planned out of the UAE, with transaction receipts from Dubai appearing to show payments of millions of rupees to the killers. Rehmani’s death had previously been reported as the result of a suspected armed robbery.

Analysts believe Pakistani authorities have been reluctant to publicly acknowledge the killings as most of the targets are known terrorists and associates of outlawed militant groups that Islamabad has long denied sheltering.

In most cases, public information about their deaths has been scant. However, Pakistani agencies showed evidence they had conducted investigations and arrests behind closed doors.

The figures given to the Guardian match up with those collated by analysts who have been tracking unclaimed militant killings in Pakistan. Ajay Sahni, the executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi, said his organisation had documented 20 suspicious fatalities in Pakistan by unknown attackers since 2020, though two had been claimed by local militant groups. He emphasised that because of Pakistan’s refusal to publicly investigate the cases – or even acknowledge that these individuals had been living in their jurisdiction – “we have no way of knowing the cause”.

“If you look at the numbers, there is clearly a shift in intent by someone or other,” said Sahni. “It would be in Pakistan’s interest to say this has been done by India. Equally, one of the legitimate lines of inquiry would be possible involvement of the Indian agencies.”

Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Muhammad Syrus Sajjad Qazi, publicly acknowledged two of the killings in a press conference in January, where he accused India of carrying out a “sophisticated and sinister” campaign of “extraterritorial and extrajudicial killings” in Pakistan.

Islamabad’s accusations were met with scepticism by others, due to the longstanding animosity between the two neighbouring countries who have gone to war four times and have often made unsubstantiated accusations against the other.

For decades India has accused Pakistan of bankrolling a violent militant insurgency in the disputed region of Indian-administered Kashmir and of giving a safe haven to terrorists. In the early 2000s, India was hit by successive terrorist attacks orchestrated by Pakistan-based Islamist militant groups, including the 2006 Mumbai train blasts, which killed more than 160 people, and the 2008 Mumbai bombings, which killed 172 people.

Both countries are known to have carried out cross-border intelligence operations, including small bomb blasts. However, analysts and Pakistani officials described the alleged systematic targeted killings of dissidents by Indian agents on Pakistani soil since 2020 as “new and unprecedented”.

The majority of those allegedly killed by Raw in Pakistan in the past three years have been individuals associated with militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, and in several cases have convictions or proven links to some of India’s deadliest terrorist incidents, which have killed hundreds of people. Others were seen to be “handlers” of Kashmiri militants who helped coordinate attacks and spread information from afar.

According to one of the Indian intelligence officers, the Pulwama attack in 2019 prompted fears that militant groups in Pakistan were planning a repeat of attacks such as the 2008 Mumbai bombings.

“The previous approach had been to foil terrorist attacks,” he said. “But while we were able to make significant progress in bringing the terrorist numbers down in Kashmir, the problem was the handlers in Pakistan. We could not just wait for another Mumbai or an attack on parliament when we are aware that the planners were still operating in Pakistan.”

In September, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, told parliament there were “credible allegations” that Indian agents had orchestrated the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh activist who was gunned down in Vancouver. Weeks later, the US Department of Justice released an indictment vividly detailing how an Indian agent had attempted to recruit a hitman in New York to kill another Sikh activist, later named as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

Both men had been major advocates of the Khalistan movement, which seeks to create an independent Sikh state and is illegal in India. India denied any involvement in the killing of Nijjar, while according to a recent report, India’s own investigation into the Pannun plot concluded that it had been carried out by a rogue agent who was no longer working for Raw.

According to one Indian intelligence official, Delhi recently ordered the suspension of targeted killings in Pakistan after Canada and the US went public with their allegations. No suspicious killings have taken place so far this year.

Two Indian operatives separately confirmed that diaspora Khalistani activists had become a focus of India’s foreign operations after hundreds of thousands of farmers, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, descended on Delhi to protest against new farm laws. The protest ultimately forced the government into a rare policy U-turn, which was seen as an embarrassment.

The suspicion in Delhi was that firebrand Sikh activists living abroad, particularly those in Canada, the US and the UK, were fuelling the farmers’ protests and stirring up international support through their strong global networks. It stoked fears that these activists could be a destabilising force and were capable of reviving Khalistani militancy in India.

“Places were raided and people were arrested in Punjab, but things were actually being controlled from places like Canada,” said one of the Indian intelligence operatives. “Like other intelligence agencies, we had to deal with it.”

In the UK, Sikhs in the West Midlands were issued “threat to life” warnings, amid growing concern about the safety of separatist campaigners who Sikhs claim are being targeted by the Indian government.

Before the US and Canadian cases, a high-profile Khalistani leader, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, was shot dead in Lahore last May. Pakistani investigators claimed they had warned Panjwar that his life was in danger a month before he was killed and said another Khalistani activist living in Pakistan has also faced threats to his life.

Panjwar’s assassination is among those alleged to have been carried out by Indian operatives using what Pakistani agencies described as the “religious method”. According to the documents, Indian agents used social media to infiltrate networks of Islamic State (IS) and units connected to the Taliban, where they recruited and groomed Pakistani Islamist radicals to carry out hit jobs on Indian dissidents by telling them they were carrying out “sacred killings” of “infidels”.

These agents allegedly sought help from former IS fighters from the Indian state of Kerala – who had travelled to Afghanistan to fight for IS but surrendered after 2019 and were brought back through diplomatic channels – to get access to these jihadist networks.

According to an investigation by the Pakistani agencies, Panjwar’s killer, who was later caught, allegedly thought he was working on the instructions of the Pakistan Taliban affiliate Badri 313 Battalion and had to prove himself by killing an enemy of Islam.

The killing of Riyaz Ahmed, a top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander, in September last year was allegedly carried out by Raw in a similar manner. His killer, Pakistan believes, was recruited through a Telegram channel for those who wanted to fight for IS, and which had been infiltrated by Raw agents.

They have claimed the assassin was Muhammad Abdullah, a 20-year-old from Lahore. He allegedly told Pakistani investigators he was promised he would be sent to Afghanistan to fight for IS if he passed the test of killing an “infidel” in Pakistan, with Ahmed presented as the target. Abdullah shot and killed Ahmed during early morning prayers at a mosque in Rawalkot, but was later arrested by Pakistani authorities.

Walter Ladwig, a political scientist at King’s College London, said the alleged shift in strategy was in line with Modi’s more aggressive approach to foreign policy and that just as western states have been accused of extrajudicial killings abroad in the name of national security, there were those in Delhi who felt “India reserves the right to do the same”.

Daniel Markey, a senior adviser on south Asia at the United States Institute of Peace, said: “In terms of India’s involvement, it all kind of adds up. It’s utterly consistent with this framing of India having arrived on the world stage. Being willing to take this kind of action against perceived threats has been interpreted, at least by some Indians, as a marker of great power status.”

The allegations of extrajudicial killings, which would violate international law, could raise difficult questions for western countries that have pursued an increasingly close strategic and economic relationship with Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government, including pushing for intelligence-sharing agreements.

A former senior Raw official who served before Modi’s premiership denied that extrajudicial killings were part of the agency’s remit. He confirmed that nothing would be done without the knowledge of the national security adviser, who would then report it to the prime minister, and on occasion they would report directly to the prime minister. “I could not do anything without their approval,” he said.

The former Raw official claimed that the killings were more likely to have been carried out by Pakistan themselves, a view that has been echoed by others in India.

Pakistani agencies denied this, pointing to a list of more than two dozen dissidents living in Pakistan to whom they had recently issued direct warnings of threats to their lives and instructed them to go into hiding. Three individuals in Pakistan said they had been given these warnings. They claimed others who had not heeded the threats and continued their normal routines were now dead.

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Schools close and crops wither as ‘historic’ heatwave hits south-east Asia

Governments across region grappling for response as temperatures soar to unseasonable highs

Thousands of schools in the Philippines have stopped in-person classes due to unbearable heat. In Indonesia, prolonged dry weather has caused rice prices to soar. In Thailand’s waters, temperatures are so high that scientists fear coral could be destroyed.

A “historic heatwave” is being experienced across south-east Asia, according to Maximiliano Herrera, a climatologist and weather historian. In updates posted on X, he said heat that was unprecedented for early April had been recorded at monitoring stations across the region this week, including in Minbu, in central Myanmar, where 44C was recorded – the first time in south-east Asia’s climatic history that such high temperatures had been reached so early in the month. In Hat Yai, in Thailand’s far south, 40.2 C was reached, an all-time record, while Yên Châu in north-west Vietnam hit 40.6C, unprecedented for this time of year.

The latest intense weather follows warnings last month by the World Meteorological Organization that the region had also been “gripped by severe heat conditions” in February when temperatures frequently soared into the high-30s – well above the seasonal average. It attributed the scorching weather to human-induced climate change, as well as the El Niño event, which brings hotter, drier conditions to the region.

“The level of heat the globe has experienced over the last 12 months, both on the land and in the ocean has surprised science,” said Prof Benjamin Horton, the director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore. “We always knew we were going to be headed in this direction with our increasing greenhouse gases, but the fact that we’re shattering all these records in 2023, and 2024, is perhaps slightly ahead of time.”

“We’re just not prepared. There’s very few, if any, places in the world that are resilient to this type of heat,” he said, adding that societies needed to adapt.

Governments across the region are grappling with how to respond. In the Philippines, almost 4,000 schools have suspended in-person classes as the heat index passed 42C in some areas, a dangerous level that the weather bureau warned could cause heat cramps and exhaustion.

During the Easter week in Manila, children played in portable pools set up in the streets to try to stay cool.

“Our classrooms are not resilient in this kind of weather. We have a ratio of one to 60-70 students in a classroom that does not have proper ventilation,” said Ruby Bernardo, the president of the teaching union the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in the National Capital Region. In a recent survey by the union, 90% of teachers said they had just two fans in a classroom to stay cool.

Teachers also reported experiencing dizziness and headaches, and said students were unable to focus and, at worst, had suffered health problems, including nose bleeds. ACT has called for the school timetable to be shifted back to its pre-pandemic schedule, so that students are on breaks during the hottest months – something the government is gradually implementing. It also wants greater investment in hiring teachers and building more climate-resilient classrooms.

“This is not a long-term solution for them to always suspend classes or to have alternative or flexible learning during the [hot] season,” said Bernardo.

Horton said schools and businesses needed to find ways to adapt – by encouraging people to wear looser, comfortable clothing, and by shifting their schedules so that people were at work, and children educated, earlier or later in the day when temperatures were less intense. “Even if we made a snap choice today to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions we’re going to have to deal with [high temperatures] for at least 50 years,” he said, adding that greater effort was needed to educate the public on how and where to stay cool.

The intense heat has also caused havoc in agriculture. In Indonesia, which experienced prolonged dry weather last year, President Joko Widodo resorted to ordering the military to help farmers plant rice when rains finally arrived in December. The cost of rice, a staple food for the country’s 270 million people, rose more than 16% in February compared with last year, according to a Reuters report. Queues for government-subsidised rice have stretched for hours.

In Vietnam, water levels were so low in canals earlier this year that farmers in some areas reportedly struggled to transport their crops. In Thailand, a fall in crop yields will cause farmers’ debt to increase by 8% this year, according to economic analysis cited by the Bangkok Post. In Malaysia, authorities have deployed cloud seeding in areas affected by lack of rainfall.

Governments have issued health warnings advising people on how to avoid heatstroke, though many workers, especially those in sectors such as agriculture or construction, have little option but to endure the severe heat. In Malaysia in February, a 22-year-old man died due to heatstroke.

The effects of the extreme heat also extend into the region’s waters. Assistant professor Thon Thamrongnawasawat, of the faculty of fisheries at Kasetsart University in Thailand, warned this week on social media that El Niño combined with global warming risked destroying coral and fish in the Gulf of Thailand.

“When compared to the start of April in the previous year, in the eastern area, the water is substantially hotter. It’s strangely hot. Even at night, the temperature was a scorching 31.5 degrees,” he said.

“Travelling to Thailand’s seaside soon could become soaking up the sun and dip into onsen. That would be a new slogan,” he said.

If the heat continued for another two or three weeks, he feared coral bleaching could take place. Excessively heated water also threatened the life of fish in local fish farms, and risked creating huge debts for farmers.

There are ways to help, including by reducing global heating, alleviating problems such as marine pollution, caused by rubbish wastewater. “Even so, we still need to be ready to handle and adjust to such rare hot-water occurrences,” he said. “Prepare yourself. The real boiling sea has arrived.”

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Hella Pick, pioneering Guardian journalist, dies aged 96

Former colleagues pay tribute to Pick, who broke into male-dominated world of foreign affairs journalism in 1950s

Hella Pick, the Guardian’s esteemed and pioneering former foreign correspondent and diplomatic editor, has died at the age of 96.

Her career spanned more than seven decades, during which she covered geopolitical upheavals and tectonic shifts in global power, and met numerous world leaders. Her last article, on the war in Gaza, was published in January.

Pick’s godchildren Matthew Fyjis-Walker and Jemima Fyjis-Walker said she died in the early hours of Thursday. Although she was very weak and struggled to speak, she had insisted on listening to the lunchtime news on Wednesday, a day of particularly bleak reports.

After breaking into the male-dominated world of foreign affairs journalism in the 1950s, Pick worked for the Guardian for more than 30 years, inspiring and intimidating younger colleagues in equal measure. She was at her journalistic peak in the pre-internet years, when tenacity, resilience, patience and charm were among the essential characteristics for success.

Katharine Viner, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, said: “Hella was an incredible force and an inspiration. She had unrivalled contacts and immense knowledge about world affairs and was always steely in her determination to find out the facts.

“When she started out, there were very few women foreign correspondents, but she soon won the admiration and respect of colleagues both within the Guardian and in the wider world. Her personal history as a refugee from the Nazis shaped her life. That she was still working up until a few weeks ago is a testament to her dedication and grit.”

Pick was born in Vienna in 1927, and spent her early childhood in what she described as a “very conventional middle-class environment”. But after the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, and attacks on Jews rose sharply, her mother decided to put her 11-year-old daughter on a Kindertransport train for the UK.

“I don’t remember the journey itself. I have a complete blank. It’s somehow been blotted out of my mind and my memory,” she said when her memoir, Invisible Walls, was published in 2021.

After school and university, her first job in journalism, on a London-based magazine, West Africa, began in 1958. Three years later, she began freelancing for the Guardian. She was taken on to the staff as UN correspondent in 1962 and left as diplomatic editor in the mid-1990s.

“When I started work, women who were doing any kind of political foreign affairs reporting were really very, very thin on the ground,” she said in an interview with the Guardian in 2021.

She also remarked on how technology had changed journalism. “In terms of how you actually pursue your craft, the world of today bears very little relationship to the one I started out in. But you still need people to trust you, you need to have an inquisitive mind and good antennae for priorities.”

Paul Webster, the editor of the Observer, and a former foreign editor of the Guardian, said: “Hella was unique, a formidable journalist with an extraordinary grasp of the complexities of cold war Europe and a contacts book to match.

“She knew senior figures from the chancelleries of capitals on both sides of the iron curtain, and used her imperious presence and huge charm to great effect to provide the Guardian with fine coverage of those fraught days. She was both grand and generous in equal measure, and a much-admired part of the Guardian’s coverage during the final tumultuous days of the cold war.”

Simon Tisdall, another former foreign editor of the Guardian, said: “Hella was a force to be reckoned with. Fiercely intelligent, passionate about all she did, incredibly well connected in the exclusive world of international diplomacy – and ever courageous in navigating a male-dominated journalistic profession that feared powerful women.

“Hella was indomitable, a trailblazer who overcame childhood trauma in the Nazi era to become a star of modern British journalism. She was a great friend and colleague.”

Alan Rusbridger, the former editor-in-chief of the Guardian and now the editor of Prospect magazine, said: “Hella was at the heart of virtually every major diplomatic event since the early 1960s. She was utterly formidable in her determination to get the story. Her range of contacts was extraordinary and her knowledge encyclopaedic.

“Well into her 90s she was writing elegant long-form pieces for Prospect magazine, including an article drawing sobering parallels between the war she fled as a Kindertransport child in 1939 and the rise of Putin. She was one of a kind.”

Pick’s 2021 memoir was a “book of great power and honesty, packed with vivid detail of her reporting adventures”, wrote the BBC veteran foreign correspondent Fergal Keane in his review for the Guardian.

Describing her as a “trailblazer for a generation”, he wrote: “Pick is testament to the necessity of having a broad intellectual hinterland and an open mind, the value of cultivating sources and finding things out. There is no better manifesto against the current clickbait culture and narcissistic social media obsession.”

Emma Graham-Harrison, senior international affairs correspondent for the Guardian, became friends with Pick after interviewing her in 2021. “Hella was an inspiration as a trailblazer, as a journalist and as a friend. Her intelligence and determination allowed her to carve a career in a world that was deeply hostile to women journalists – particularly foreign correspondents – and made so much possible for those of us following in her footsteps.” she said.

“She was probably the oldest working journalist in the UK, and was deeply engaged with the world, even as she was leaving it. The days before her death, weak and in hospital, she still wanted to talk about her horror at the situation in Gaza and her fear for Ukraine’s future, with Europe and America distracted and divided.

“Always interested in people, she was open to making new friends all through her life, even into her 90s. I was lucky, and honoured, to be one of them.”

Helena Kennedy, the barrister, who was a close friend of Pick’s, said: “Hella was a truly remarkable woman, erudite and cultured. Geopolitics was her life blood. She thrived on stimulating debate and loved to entertain. Her gatherings always had elegance and style. She was a true grande dame of the press.”

Misha Glenny, another veteran foreign correspondent, said he had last seen Pick in December in Vienna when she received the Golden Medal of Merit from the city of her birth. From there, she went to Berlin to be guest of honour at an exhibition commemorating the Kindertransport in the Bundestag. “Together, the two events gave her a certain closure,” said Glenny.

He said he first met Pick in 1986 as a “green freelance reporter, grappling with my first very big foreign story. I had been reading Hella for years. Her authoritative style and her heightened perception of political trends had inspired me and, I am sure, many others to pursue the dream of becoming a foreign correspondent.”

As he walked to meet her for a coffee, he said, “I was almost shaking with trepidation. But we were friends from that day on. I will for ever remain in her debt. Ceaselessly upbeat, inquisitive and questioning, Hella was a giant of 20th century British journalism but in a class of her own. She will be missed by so many.”

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US tourist killed after bull elephant toppled safari vehicle in Zambia

Four others were wounded in the attack at Kafue national park, in which the animal barreled into the side of a truck

An elderly US tourist was killed and four others hurt when an aggressive bull elephant charged and toppled their safari vehicle during a game drive in Zambia.

The attack at Kafue national park, in which the large pachyderm ran from a wooded area and barreled into the side of the truck, was captured on video and posted to social media by ABC News. It identified the tourist as 79-year-old Gail Mattson of Minnesota.

Keith Vincent, executive director of the safari operator Wilderness, told the network in a statement that the elephant’s charge was unexpected, and the driver had no opportunity to escape.

“Our guides are all extremely well trained and experienced, but sadly in this instance the terrain and vegetation was such that the guide’s route became blocked and he could not move the vehicle out of harm’s way quickly enough,” he said.

“This is a tragic event and we extend our deepest condolences to the family of the guest who died. We are also, naturally, supporting those guests and the guide involved in this distressing incident.”

Wildlife officials and local police say they are investigating Saturday’s incident, which took place in the national park about 220 miles north-west of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. Covering almost 8,700 square miles, Kafue is the country’s oldest and largest national park, and is popular with tourists for its abundance and variety of birds and animals.

Wilderness said four other guests in the vehicle were treated for minor injuries.

Family members of Mattson, who also had a home in Arizona, told Minnesota’s KSTP News that she was “living life” on the game-watching holiday. Photographs of her in a safari truck clutching a flower, taken on the day of her death, accompanied the network’s report.

John Longabauth, a friend from Arizona, told the outlet he would miss her adventurous spirit. “She had told us that this safari was going to be her last big adventure,” he said. “Because her birthday is in the summer, she was going to be 80, she felt like she would start slowing down.”

Zambia’s neighbor Zimbabwe has expressed recent concern at a growing conflict between humans and elephants from a rising elephant population, especially one that is migrating more as the climate crisis disrupts animals’ access to food, water and cover, in Africa and around the world.

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